On request. This is set back when the Nighthold raid opened, about the time I ended my subscription and decided I wouldn't be returning. Maybe it's a little melodramatic, maybe it's a little excessive. But after over a decade of energy, story, and life poured into a fictional persona, perhaps I felt there needed to be some finality.
There was a time, several years back, when Kormok visited a gallery in Silvermoon. It was as part of his ambassadorial duties, such as they were, to familiarize the clan with the elves, and the elves with the clan. That morning, he supped on the meager and overly-spiced offerings of his delicate hosts, ears filled with the plucking of harps and lilting voices, and head pounding from the noxious aromas of perfumes and incense. His back ached from a night spent on cushioned, silk-covered bedding, and his skin itched from soaps and lotions applied by not-so-subtle request of the elven hostess.
When the time finally came to view the art and sculpture of the gallery, the orc expected hours of additional tedium and cultural exchange, with various condescending references to, “those lovely cave paintings you all make.” What he witnessed was instead a marvel of craftsmanship where marble was magically-sculpted into forms so lifelike that Kormok questioned whether or not they were elves turned to stone.
Across the gallery, paintings and murals decorated every conceivable surface of a chamber with high, vaulted ceilings. The tiles of the floor were mosaics of green and gold, and the surfaces above splashed with azure. Cream-colored clouds were painted -- and enchanted -- to appear as though it were a sky in perpetual spring twilight. Where the ceiling met the walls, the blue faded to shades of pink and purple. A thousand different hues and pigments were blended in ways the orc’s eyes could barely follow, and his hosts stood in smug triumph at Kormok’s enraptured gaze.
It was a true gallery of wonder.
At the time, Kormok hated it. The forced politeness of it all, the fake smiles, the disdain hidden behind the perfect smiles of Silvermoon’s diplomats. When he finally made the journey back to Orgrimmar, be it as it may through the gut-churning sorcery of portal magic, he was grateful to be back in the dust, the blazing heat, and the myriad smells of roasting and unidentifiable meat.
Kormok forced open his good eye and beheld the chamber in which he lay. The ceiling was azure, painted with fluffy cream-colored clouds, streaked with soot. The walls held the frames of scorched paintings, their subjects no longer identifiable. When he moved to stand, the pain shot through him once again.
It was a true gallery of suffering.
His flesh was writ with hues and pigments of agony. Every shade of burn, laceration, and bruise blended as though by the hand of a master of paints, brushed upon his skin and bone with true artistic talent.
It was not in Silvermoon where he lay, but in a far distant city upon a shore he had barely known more than two months. The elves here were different, but not by much -- they too used magic for all things mundane, and they too labored with the taint of fiendish masters. But where the blood elves threw off their short-lived enamoring with the powers of demons, these nightborne suffered for far longer and, in many cases, gladly.
Kormok marshalled the strength to lever himself into a sitting position, ignoring the pain of minor fractures and torn muscle. He was unsure of how long he allowed himself the luxury of sleep given his surroundings, trapped as he was within the mage-bound borders of Suramar. It seemed to Kormok as though he were in hiding for weeks, even though it was only several days.
Even so, for the warrior, there are limits to mortal endurance. Hours of intense combat, followed by hours of frantic guerilla attacks against the demons that pursued him, took their toll on Kormok’s fortitude. A few hours’ rest had bought him the energy he needed to continue on and find a new route out of the twisting city.
He stood with great effort, and the motions became easier as he bullied his joints and muscles into obedience. First he affixed his remaining pauldron back onto his frame, then checked the straps on his battle-scarred shield. Still good for another few fights, he thought to himself. The axe he brought along on the mission was long since discarded, hurled into the skull of a charging demon as it attempted to cut down a member of the nightborne resistance fleeing down a side street.
The moment of would-be heroism cost Kormok his weapon, then his pack with the hearthstone that would have spirited him out of this mess, and started the path to his current situation. Still, the shield would be enough, as many such shields had been over the years. He strapped it onto his left forearm and gripped the handle firmly with his hand, then made for the barricaded door.
Judging by the light, it was still an hour or so before dawn. If he was lucky, he could make for the city’s edge and make for the forest. If I can get a fire going, I can signal one of the resistance patrols or even an Alliance warband, Kormok thought to himself. The idea that the latter option seemed an improvement over his situation did not strike him as ironic.
Shouldering a fallen bookcase out of the way of the door, the orc pushed open the door to the street just a crack. Every sound made carried far more distantly than he would have liked, but he was not set upon by demons and their elven slaves at that very moment. As quietly as he could muster, he set out into Suramar’s darkened alleys and made for what he believed was north, away from the sounds of the sea and into higher ground.
The paved roads made a steady ascent as he went. Those few poor bodies he crossed along his route were either dead already or in a daze, shaking from withdrawal of the precious arcwine that mollified their addictions. Though a pang of regret for them crossed Kormok’s heart, he knew that in his condition he could do little for them. They neither noticed him, nor cried out into the early morning fog for patrols to seize the intruder in hopes of securing an extra ration of arcwine.
Each window he passed was darkened. The demons enforced a strict curfew on the nightborne, swarming the city by night to gather up dissidents or corpses, or those just unlucky enough to be caught in their path. Kormok squinted upwards with the eye that was not swollen shut, expecting a shutter to crack open and see his egress.
He was only a few streets down before his upward glance denied him awareness of the city at his own level. An arm shot out of a building alcove and grabbed him by the strap of a breastplate, jerking him out of the street with surprising strength and into the shadows of a derelict row home. There was the sound of bared steel, followed by harsh elvish whispers that he did not understand.
Kormok’s reflexes drowned out his surprise. He rolled with the pull and allowed himself to be carried past where the length of the attacker’s arm would have carried him, the orc’s own superior mass yanking the foe along with him. Lifting the shield on his left arm, Kormok then planted his feet firmly and let his attacker crash into the wood and steel barrier. The tall cloaked figure crumpled against it and fell, groaning in pain, but there were others.
He turned and fixed his gaze on the other occupants of the room, the blood fury rising in his veins. The others were small, but definitely nightborne, huddled in frightened heaps beneath the towering heap of steel, meat, and stink that was Kormok. The warrior, only through great effort, stopped himself from yielding to battle rage, then turned his side to face the creature that initiated the ambush.
The fallen attacker’s face was now revealed, for the cloak had fallen away during his tumble. It was a nightborne, face gaunt but eyes bright with anger. In his hand he still gripped a long curved blade, an elven sword, whose edge was dulled from disuse and poor storage. Kormok let out a quiet sigh -- this was no nightborne in league with the Legion, equipped as they were.
“Can you understand me?” Kormok asked, careful to keep his voice low.
The only reply was a short, angry sentence from the elf, who rolled expertly to position himself between the orc and the smaller elves -- children, now that Kormok had the wherewithal to consider. Blade outstretched, the nightborne hissed another unintelligible statement of defiance.
Kormok relaxed his posture slightly, keeping his shield arm facing the naked blade, and lifted his free hand to check for the brooch that once kept a now-shredded cloak in place. It was still there, thankfully. He tapped it, indicating the proud Horde emblem engraved upon it.
“There, see?” the orc said. “Horde. Not demon, Horde. Come on, you long-eared idiot, put that away before I take it from you.”
The nightborne’s eyes shifted from Kormok’s to the indicated emblem, then back. Behind him, the smaller elves said something whose meaning was not clear, but it caused the elder to lower the sword point enough to indicate he understood what the symbol meant.
Relieved, Kormok looked at their surroundings. It was a home, at least once, with most of its furnishings empty and upturned. Possibly the residence of the nightborne he now shared the confines with, but perhaps not. These were neither resistance fighters nor Legion sympathizers, which filled Kormok with an even more unpleasant thought.
“Civilians,” he sighed. “I am looking for a way out of the city. A way,” he continued, attempting to pantomime with his free hand, “out of Suramar. Suramar?” The nightborne seemed to recognize only the city’s name. Kormok grunted and tried again, this time with more pointing and indicating a northerly direction.
The elves convened in their own tongue, with the eldest not taking his gaze off of the orc. Kormok allowed them their huddle, moving back to the entryway whose open door was held on only by a single weak hinge. Its surface showed the signs of scorch marks and repeated blows. The Legion must have broken down the door, possibly seized its owners, he thought, turning his gaze back to the elves. Squatters? Or survivors that hid?
The eldest nightborne said something quietly to the others, which silenced their debate. They nodded to him. Kormok arched an eyebrow, which he immediately regretted as it aggravated the swelling sealing the eye beneath it shut. The armed elf pointed to the door, then north, saying something in a less aggressive tone. Then he pointed to the two younger elves -- siblings, perhaps -- then himself, then to Kormok.
Bloody hellfire, he thought.
A good soldier would have taken stock of the situation and made the pragmatic decision. If he left them behind, Kormok could probably make it to the city’s edge and either crept or forced his way past the sentries. From there, a more likely rescue, or at least the ability to recover and live off the land for a while until he could find an encampment.
Kormok knew he hadn’t been a good soldier for years.
The orc sighed. And then he nodded in agreement.
The sun broke over the horizon, casting long shadows through Suramar’s streets. As the small group moved, the patrols became thicker and more difficult to avoid. Kormok and his armed ally were already forced to bring down two sentries in a risky ambush at the end of an alley, but the effort earned the warrior a new weapon in the process. It was expertly balanced and crackled with subtle enchantments, but the grip was too small and sat unsteadily in Kormok’s hand.
Better than nothing, he thought as they continued.
Together, they reached Suramar’s edge without bringing down the wrath of the sentries. Unfortunately, Kormok had misjudged their location within Suramar’s borders, and there was an uncomfortable amount of open ground between the alley and the shimmering barrier that demarcated the city’s edge.
The nightborne touched his arm and whispered, making a face and shaking his head.
“It’s here or risk hiding out another day,” Kormok replied. The tone was at least clear, and the elf’s frown deepened. There was a stifled sob of fear from one of the two younger nightborne, which was quickly hushed by the other.
He looked left down the plaza. There were two of the four-legged mystical guardians that the city’s masters employed, elvish constructions powered by foul and unstable magic. Their hindquarters were currently turned to Kormok and the elves. The orc then checked right. Two more nightborne sentries stood looking east, flanked by a pair of towering demonic warriors. Their gaze would be harder to elude.
Just need to get past the barrier, Kormok said to himself.
“Let’s go,” he said in a low voice, then started across the flagstones. The elves hesitated only a moment, then began to follow.
Every step was a frightening thunder that carried further than Kormok hoped it would, and none of them dared even a breath as they crossed the open ground. A brief respite in a magically-sculpted hedge allowed them an opportunity to gather their wits and avoid a sweep of the demons’ gaze before they moved on.
Thirty yards. Kormok crouched as low as his aching knees would allow, careful to keep the shield from scraping the stones or clattering against the buckles and straps of his damaged armor.
Twenty-five yards. The constructs to their left turned and began to sweep this way, but their limited range of sight seemed to keep the escapees hidden for the moment.
Twenty yards. Almost, Kormok nearly said aloud.
One of the nightborne children stumbled and hit the ground, skinning their knee. The yelp reached the ears of the sentries and their demonic escort, who turned to spot the source of the noise. The towering fiends’ eyes glowed a sickly green and fixated upon Kormok and the elves. Their bellowed alarm carried for many streets over.
“Go!” Kormok shouted, breaking into a run. The nightborne sentries drew gleaming silver arrows from their quivers and took aim, while at Kormok’s left, the constructs were thundering toward them at a fearsome speed. Growling, he skidded briefly to shield the elves from two enchanted shafts sent from the archers.
Adrenaline shot through his body in anticipation of the fight. If he didn’t make himself a target, the archers would make quick work of the unarmored civilians. Kormok slammed the edge of his pilfered elven sword against the scarred face of his shield and roared a challenge.
The fleeing nightborne cowered in the shadow of his shield, with the eldest pulling on his arm and shouting in a tongue he did not understand. Kormok shook his head, pinning the sword under his shield arm and taking hold of the Horde brooch with the now-liberated hand. With a single motion, he tore it, and the shreds of his old cloak free.
“Take this, make for somewhere, anywhere,” Kormok said, shoving it into the nightborne’s hand. “Go! Go, damn you!”
The elves paused only for a moment. The eldest’s eyes lingered for what seemed an eternity before he and the two younger nightborne sprinted for, and passed, the mystical shield that surrounded the occupied city of Suramar.
Kormok readied the stolen sword and blocked another brace of arrows from the archers. The constructs and the demons were both charging at a frightening speed and would reach him in moments. He had to choose his targets carefully -- the magical constructs had proven the greater challenge in missions more successful than this one proved to be, and thus were too dangerous to ignore.
The demons reached him first. A fel-forged spear sheared the air over his head, leaving the creature open from the waist down. Kormok surged forward and put his weight into a single blow from his shield, shattering the demon’s knee and dragging it down to his level. Its fellow aimed its own spear for the orc, and so Kormok interposed the stricken fiend and allowed it to be skewered in his stead.
Shaking ground beneath his feet told him the constructs were close. Kormok twisted out from the collapsing bulk of the impaled demon and laid his good eye on the closest of the arcane guardians. Its fist was raised to crush the life from the orc, the joints and the plates that made up its form bound together by crackling orbs of magical force. The weak points.
Kormok sprang forward and lanced his elven sword into the joint of the thing’s right foreleg. There was a burst of escaping energy as the joint collapsed, carrying the guardian’s fist off target to smash into the ground. Chips of shattered stone rained upward, skidding off of Kormok’s breastplate and greaves.
There was a bite in his back as an arrow found its way past his armor. Kormok didn’t have time to consider its lethality, only to brace for the next hit from the other construct. Its blow hit his shield, but the strength of it was enough to send him sliding backwards. From his right, the remaining demon pulled its spear free from the other and aimed it for the warrior.
Steel flashed. Arrows rained. A parry, a block, and twisting riposte. The other demon fell, but now more were coming. The arrows paused only when the bulk of his attackers filled the gaps. They came quickly, rushing from all streets and alleys that Kormok and the other escapees bypassed in their flight from Suramar.
The second construct was more fierce than the other, shocking the orc with a blast of raw magic that caught him off guard. More demons attacked, their spears and axes hitting his armor and breaching it in places, but not far enough to kill outright. His sword arm was now useless, the shoulder separated by a blow from the arcane guardian. All Kormok had left was the shield.
Using its edge like a battering ram, Kormok smashed the construct in the torso and sent it staggering backwards. The blood fury coursed through him now, and there was strangely no pain. Ignoring his wounds, the orc vaulted up onto the construct’s back, riding it as though it were some unnatural steed, slamming his shield edge into its vulnerable back plates.
The constructs flailing limbs were a screen against other assaults for the moment, but it would not last long. Kormok smashed his shield down into it, again and again, breaching the carapace and exposing the eye-watering glow of its arcane power source. He threw the shield off of his arm and reached into the radiance, grasping it, feeling it sear his skin and cause his body to convulse.
“What is that charming phrase you all use when you win a battle?” the sin'dorei teamistress said politely, pouring Kormok another measure of the vile hot leaf-water. She seemed to enjoy watching him quaff it out of forced politeness.
“You need to be more specific, I fear,” Kormok replied, forcing a toothy grin. He couldn’t tell if he was managing to look friendly or not.
“Oh, you know. ‘By the Horde,’ or something like that.”
“It’s ‘For the Horde',” he corrected. “For the Horde.”
Kormok didn’t have the presence of mind to consider the ramifications of what he was about to do. He wasn’t even sure what would happen. Stories often tell of the tragic warrior who dies in service to a cause, at least getting the opportunity to spit in the face of their attackers.
There were no last words. No witty defiance. No thinking about clan, or the touch of a distant lover, or memories of a Horde he barely recognized.
He squeezed, shattering whatever matter comprised the magical core. The radiance washed up and over him, exploding outward in incandescent, unstable mana that evaporated everything within a dozen yards.
And then there was nothing.